COVID-19 Testing Communications and Community Engagement Toolkit

Harvard Global Health Institute, Brown University School of Public Health and The Rockefeller Foundation launched a new resource for cities, states and community partners. This evidence-based, free Toolkit helps educate about the importance of Covid-19 testing and aims to increase participation in asymptomatic testing.  

To combat the rapid increases in Covid-19 infections and bring the pandemic back under control, the nation needs to perform millions of tests every day this fall and winter. Thanks to the arrival of millions of rapid point-of-care tests and other increases in testing capacity, cities and states can finally act on this urgent need, expand the scope of who they are testing, and screen more broadly for the virus. 

For this approach to work, however, Americans need to know why, when, and where they should get tested, and how they can readily participate in testing, even if they feel healthy. Public health departments and community organizations now have help in achieving this goal through the launch of the Covid-19 Testing Communications and Community Engagement Toolkit. The Toolkit is a free, public resource that equips anyone interested in communicating the importance of Covid-19 testing with resources to run motivating, clear campaigns that educate Americans about the ins-and-outs of coronavirus testing.

“To date, communications approaches have focused largely on encouraging testing of people who feel sick. There is a significant gap in public understanding of how healthy people can spread the virus, and in which situations to seek a test,” says Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. “Testing delays and shortfalls also have created misconceptions about the availability of tests. And because of misinformation, there is a lack of public trust in testing as a crucial measure to suppress the virus and reduce death and suffering.” 

Produced jointly by the Brown School of Public Health and the Harvard Global Health Institute, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, and developed with input from mayors and local leaders, the new Toolkit is a one-stop-shop, online resource, that offers guidance on campaigning best practices, easy-to-use practical tools, and a large library of ‘plug and play’ testing communication materials such as social media cards and posts, animations, newsletters, and handouts. Experts in public health, medicine, epidemiology, and supply chain collaborated with artists and expert communicators to create materials that are both accurate and engaging. Key messages have been translated into eight common languages spoken in the U.S.   

“The Toolkit helps people understand a key aspect of this pandemic: That you can pass along the virus without knowing you have it,” says Dr. Thomas Tsai, Assistant Professor of Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and fellow at the Harvard Global Health Institute. “At least every second infection in this pandemic comes from someone who wasn’t sick when they infected others. So to stop this silent spread of the virus, we all need to know more about how testing works and when we should seek a test.” 

“This new resource takes the mystery out of Covid-19 testing and makes it a thing we all do at some point,” says Danielle Allen, director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics and an expert reviewer of the Toolkit. “The politicization of this pandemic has made it difficult to know where to find trustworthy information; with this tool, trusted community messengers can help vulnerable communities get the knowledge they need to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

“Testing is becoming increasingly available and we need people to understand that taking a test, even if they don’t have symptoms, protects themselves, their loved ones, and their neighbors,” says Eileen O’Connor, Senior Vice President of Communications, Policy, and Advocacy at The Rockefeller Foundation. “Most importantly, we can re-open our economy fully and safely if every person is routinely tested, isolates when positive, and wears a mask. This toolkit provides clear, consistent messages so that Americans understand the value of getting tested and other measures, even when they feel healthy.” 

Brown University School of Public Health and HGHI update state testing targets in collaboration with NPR.

How many daily tests are needed to frequently screen for COVID-19 and keep people safe in schools, prisons, nursing homes, among grocery store and restaurant workers? How can we democratize testing? The COVID-19 testing calculator, developed by a joint team of researchers from HGHI and Brown University School of Public Health, helps decision makers refine their testing strategy and estimates the number of tests needed to implement their chosen approach.

In the coming months, the U.S. needs to be performing millions of tests each day to open and keep open the economy, send children back to school safely, and finally suppress the coronavirus. The arrival of millions of new antigen tests – such as the 150 million tests for nursing home testing the Trump administration recently announced – and other new testing modalities will allow cities and states to gradually increase their testing. They can expand beyond testing only people with symptoms, and begin to regularly and strategically test more and more asymptomatic people in critical settings.

“We’ve been holding our breath as a country for the last months — waiting for a new technology, waiting for more capacity for testing.”

Dr. Thomas Tsai, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and HGHI Fellow

This screening approach to testing – for example, testing all school children in Colorado once a week – is supported by the COVID-19 testing calculator, which informs decision makers on the number of tests needed. The tool offers five scenarios: base and ideal options, as well as three intermediate options that focus on schools, health care, or the economy.

The goal of the calculator and the accompanying recommendations is to help illustrate the trade-offs decision makers face as they consider how to distribute increasing testing capacity. In the current environment of market-driven testing distribution, those who have the means (sports teams, elite universities, companies on Wall Street) can afford a screening testing approach. Meanwhile, cities and states  lack support and funding from the federal government and congress, and so they struggle to build the infrastructure to regularly screen in critical contexts.

The testing calculator is currently available for download as an Excel file. For an explanation of the methodology, and more information about the five testing scenarios, and further updates to the calculator, please visit